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Blog: WHC 2019: Plečnik in Ljubljana

Slovenia’s Tentative List features The timeless, humanistic architecture of Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana and Prague. As the title already implies, this was meant to be a serial transnational nomination by Slovenia and Czechia. Last December however, after consulting ICOMOS, Slovenia decided to continue with the efforts alone: “the transnational bid was assessed as having little chance of success”. It is unclear yet whether they made the 1 February 2018 deadline for submitting the dossiers to be nominated for the WHC 2019, but we can safely assume that Slovenia will put this site forward within the next couple of years.

Ljubljanica River riverfront

Jože Plečnik was a Slovene architect who made his most important works in the first half of the 20th century. He is nicknamed “the Gaudí of Ljubljana” for this architectural imprint on the city. I visited Ljubljana in 2014 after a few days checking out (T)WHS by rental car around Slovenia. This site wasn’t on the Tentative List at the time, so I had to revisit my photo archive of the day to see if I had visited (photographed) any of his buildings anyway. The city is strong on Art Nouveau as well, and examples of that style stood out more to me in the streets of the Slovenian capital than the works of Plečnik.

I spent most of my time at the embankment of the Ljubljanica River, an area in the city centre with lots of cafés and restaurants. This is already Plečnik Central. He was responsible for the masterplan to redesign the riverfront. It resulted for example in a total makeover of two existing bridges and the addition of a colonnaded market building.

Congress Square, renovated by Plecnik

The nomination will be a serial site of (at least) 4 locations across Ljubljana. Most iconic is the Slovene National and University Library building. It’s huge, with a square ground plan “modelled in the manner of the Italian palazzo”. Entrance for tourists is limited, but you can visit it on the twice-weekly “Walking Tour of Plečnik's Ljubljana” organized by the Ljubljana Tourism Organisation.

To me, the story of Plečnik and Ljubljana parallels that of Ödön Lechner’s Budapest, which I visited and reviewed a few months ago. These architects have had a large impact on country level, but lack the international exposure and following that for example Le Corbusier or Frank Lloyd Wright have had. Neither have they designed single buildings that are so iconic that they could compete in the league of the Sydney Opera House.

Part of the Three Bridges, designed by Plecnik

The Czechs were dismissed by the Slovenians and will withdraw their tentative site. At the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord in Vinohrady, the single location that was proposed in Czechia, they were actually grateful for the outcome. The commitments resulting from a UNESCO listing would be a burden for the parish: "The church, ..., must first remain a church, a sacred space ..., and almost all the profane tourism of today is not very good".

Published 17 February 2018

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Responses to WHC 2019: Plečnik in Ljubljana
Ian Cade (18 January 2038)

Thanks for flagging this up Els, I hadn't realised the Czech location had been dropped.

The church in Vinohrady is a rather peculiar building, worth a quick view if you happen to be in direct area, but not one I would go out of my way to see.

It seemed odd that they didn't include Prague Castle in the proposal as well, as he was the key planner in refurbishing the site, and much of the more subtle aspects of the tourist route through are based on Plečnik's work.

Oh well it removes a potential preemptive tick for me, if it does get inscribed I guess I have more of a reason to finally get to Ljubljana.


Ian Cade (18 January 2038)

Thanks for flagging this up Els, I hadn't realised the Czech location had been dropped.

The church in Vinohrady is a rather peculiar building, worth a quick view if you happen to be in direct area, but not one I would go out of my way to see.

It seemed odd that they didn't include Prague Castle in the proposal as well, as he was the key planner in refurbishing the site, and much of the more subtle aspects of the tourist route through are based on Plečnik's work.

Oh well it removes a potential preemptive tick for me, if it does get inscribed I guess I have more of a reason to finally get to Ljubljana.


Blog: The Rebirth of Bodh Gaya

I regularly check Amazon.com for new publications on World Heritage, and I found one at the end of last year that sounded interesting: The Rebirth of Bodh Gaya: Buddhism and the Making of a World Heritage Site by David Geary. The Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Bodh Gaya, centred around the descendant of a Bodhi tree where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment, has been a WHS since 2002. The author (an anthropologist) did extensive fieldwork in Bodh Gaya in the years after the designation, and this publication - written with a general audience in mind – reflects his findings.

The complex history of the Mahabodhi Temple

The book starts with an interesting deep-dive into the site’s history, after its ‘rediscovery’ in the mid-19th century by state-sponsored Burmese pilgrims. At the time it was already an active Hindu pilgrimage site. There were no Buddhist residents in the area. During the 20th century, Buddhist countries and organizations from abroad started to add monasteries, temples and lodges in their own architectural styles to the area around the main temple. To acknowledge the rise in importance for Buddhists, the site has been under joint Hindu-Buddhist management since 1953.

The site got another push after the escape of the 14th Dalai Lama from Tibet to India in 1959. In his footsteps, over 100,000 Tibetan Buddhists moved to India. The Mahabodhi Temple became an important pilgrimage site in their new homeland and the Dalai Lama regularly teaches there.

“Tibetans in exile have lead to the internationalization of Tibetan Buddhism and the revitalization of many Buddhist sites in India.”

The implications of having a WHS in your backyard

Bodh Gaya is located in the state of Bihar, which for long has been regarded as one of the most backward, poor, corrupt and unsafe parts of India. Nowadays it markets itself as ‘Blissful Bihar’, and is actively attracting Western and Asian tourists along its spiritual circuit that also includes Nalanda.

All developments described above – the foreign-owned monasteries, the Tibetan influx, the state government marketing schemes – largely have disregarded the local population. The WH designation, with its need for clearly defined core and buffer zones, is seen as another outside influence that impacts their daily life. It served as an alibi for the authorities to push on with their master plan for beautification and “disguise the messiness of everyday”. The locals had to move their shops and have seen a protective wall built to shut them out of the core zone, while foreign Buddhist countries still continue construction in the same area. Geary’s proposed solution is to approach the Mahabodhi Temple Complex as a living religious heritage instead of a museum or archaeological site.

Sri Lankan pilgrims at the site

Readers that are interested in Indian history and current affairs, as well as those curious about the heritage management aspects of a World Heritage designation will surely enjoy this book as much as I did.

Published 10 February 2018

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Clyde (18 January 2038)

I really enjoyed my visit in Bodh Gaya even though mostly for intangible heritage. Definitely worth reading even if only for a trip down memory lane!


Blog: Tips for travelling to Namibia

In December and January I spent 2.5 weeks in Namibia. I joined a 7 day small group tour to the South, a 7 day tour to the North (both organized by the recommended Wild Dogs Safaris) and had a few days by myself in and around the capital Windhoek. This is a very special country, comparable to few others around the world. Mongolia and Australia’s Red Centre come closest.

Oryx in the Kalahari desert

1. Do not underestimate Namibia’s size

Namibia’s land area measures 823,290 square km. This makes it the 34th largest country in the world – larger than Turkey for example, and about the same size as Spain and Germany combined. For a traveller, this means that you will have to cover vast distances. On my 2 week organized tour, we drove over 4,000 km. And this on mostly unpaved roads. Those (gravel) roads often can be quite smooth as they are ‘raked’ every few weeks. But they can be very bad as well: I especially remember the hard driving in the western part of Etosha National Park and at the over 100km long access road to the Fish River Lodge.

2. Focus on the Tentative List too

Namibia has only 2 WHS to date, and that is far too little for a country of this size and state of preservation. So you should take a good look at its Tentative List for further inspiration. The 3 TWHS that I reviewed (Fish River Canyon, Benguela Current and Etosha Pan) are all worthy of inscription in my opinion. Namibia’s Tentative List further includes interesting sites such as the Brandberg and the Succulent Karoo Protected Areas.

Quiver tree near Fish River Canyon

3. See unique flora and fauna

Namibia’s very arid climate is suitable only for specific flora and fauna species. The Welwitischia Mirabilis for example, a plant endemic to the Namib desert that grows so slowly that individual plants can be encountered that are 1,000-2,000 years old. Its habitat is covered by the Welwitschia Plains TWHS. The country’s most iconic mammal is the oryx or gemsbok with its spectacular horns. It can rely upon eating wild fruits for its water intake instead of drinking water.

4. Check out ‘German’ towns and cities

Although Germany colonized these lands only for 31 years, especially in the Namibian towns and cities you can still see reminders of the German past. They say that Lüderitz looks like how Germany was 100 years ago, and that Swakopmund reflects the situation of 50 years ago. I found Lüderitz ‘interesting’ because of its inhospitable setting. I did not enjoy Swakopmund: too much of a beach destination for elderly Germans. The best ‘German’ site however is Kolmanskoppe, an abandoned mining town that has been frozen in time.

Abandoned railway station near Kolmanskoppe

5. Add a bit of Marxism-Leninism as well

It is worthwhile to look around in Windhoek for a day, as it will give you a better insight into day-to-day life for the Namibians. A good thing to be aware of is that Namibia has only been independent since 1990. A must see therefore is the Independence Memorial Museum, a huge modern structure developed by a North Korean building company. The history on display strongly underlines the dominant political party’s SWAPO’s communist support base, with some remarkable socialist realist paintings and sculptures.

Published 3 February 2018

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Responses to Tips for travelling to Namibia
Shandos Cleaver (18 January 2038)

Great to read your tips! I've heard so many recommendations about this country and can't wait to visit.


Clyde (18 January 2038)

Interesting post! Thanks for sharing, Els.


Blog: An improved website

It has taken a while due to travel and day job commitments, but Nan & I now can proudly present the refurbished version of this website. So what’s new?

Easier login and subscription

As a registered community member, you can now login via the button at the bottom left of the homepage. After providing your username & password, you will stay logged in as long as you are online. You can add reviews on the go, update your count of visited (T)WHS and rate WHS that you have already visited (see below for more on that).

The new and improved login screen

The addition of new members has now been fully automated, and uses e-mail verification. Also, finally a proper ‘lost password’ function has been introduced. So no more e-mails to me and tricks to perform anymore!

An improved user interface for adding and editing reviews

With the inclusion of a simple content management system, you will be able now to add mark-up to the texts of your reviews – such as turn words into bold or italic, create hyperlinks to other websites or add a paragraph. Also, the photo upload system should be easier to work with than the previous one. You can add a photo in one go while you’re writing the review text.

The new editor

Continuous rating system

From now on, subscribed users can also rate their visits to WHS on a scale from 1 to 5 stars. As a starter, I’ve filled in already a large number of ratings for the sites that I ranked over the years (some 250). I converted the 9’s and 10’s to 5 stars, 8’s to 4 stars, 7's to 3.5 and 6's to 3 et cetera. You can also give 0.5 stars. Maybe you already use your own system. You can also adjust your rating after a revisit.

Rate your visit

Some smaller fixes

The explanations for the connections per WHS are visible again on the site page. There's a nice new WHS meetup page. The About-page has been redone and now contains a WH glossary plus links to recent interviews with Philipp Peterer, Atila Ege and me.

Many thanks to Nan, as without him this would not have been possible. We hope you all like it. If you see any bugs, or have ideas for future improvements: add them to this forum post.

Published 27 January 2018

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Responses to An improved website
Nan (18 January 2038)

@Caspar. It's a bug. See the forum. Your rating is very likely in. And starting with the next release (scheduled asap) you can see your ratings on your own profile page.


Esteban Cervantes Jiménez (18 January 2038)

Great job, Els and Nan! These changes will certainly add up positively to the experience of this great website


Caspar Dechmann (18 January 2038)

That's great, thanks a lot! It seems though that it doesn't save my ratings: If I reopen a page the average rating and mine are always identical. Perhaps it saves the individual ratings invisibly?


Colvin (18 January 2038)

Great work, Els and Nan!


Nan (18 January 2038)

Finally done :)


Clyde (18 January 2038)

Well done to both of you :) Will be fun to rate the WHS I visited.


Blog: WHS #653: Robben Island

Robben Island was the penitentiary island where the South African apartheid regime kept its political prisoners between 1962 and 1991. Almost all of the past and current elite of the ANC was imprisoned here, but the cells also held members from the more radical Pan Africanist Congress and the Namibian independence movement SWAPO. The island, which lies in viewing distance from Cape Town, has been in use since the times of the Dutch East India Company (mid-17th century).

A former prisoner explains

One nowadays can only visit Robben Island on a tightly organized tour. Beforehand I had heard and read a lot about those tours: not a minute of free time to walk around for yourself, unintelligible guides who tell muddled stories, even ferries that get into trouble on the short crossing (60 people had to be rescued from sea in September 2017). But my experience was entirely different: maybe they have taken improvement measures or I caught them on a good day, but the staff on the ferry was very polite, engaging and safety conscious. The personal story of the former prisoner that acted as our guide I found very moving and added value beyond just looking at a bunch of stone prison buildings.

The boat tours depart four times a day from the most touristic part of the port of Cape Town. There, between the expensive restaurants and shops of the V&A Waterfront, lies the ‘Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island’. It is an exhibition space (unfortunately closed when I visited), souvenir shop and mooring for ferries. In the store they really sell everything with the image of Mandela on it, even packets of rooibos tea.

Mandela's cell

The ferry ride takes only half an hour, and from the top deck (be early on board to secure a place there!) you have formidable views of Cape Town with the Table Mountains as its backdrop. We also saw two whales on our way across. Robben Island quickly came into view. I had expected it to be a fairly barren island, but it has a village of considerable size (where the staff of the museum lives), lots of greenery and many former prison buildings.

On arrival we were immediately divided over about five buses, each of which continued on its own route across the island. 'My' bus first went to the prison buildings. The special feature of Robben Island Museum is that former political prisoners who have been detained here have been hired to give the tours. They now live here again on Robben Island, but with their families. Our guide had been living in Johannesburg but could not find work, so he was happy that he had found a job here. I wonder if over the years they’ve filtered out the ones that did not fit the guiding requirements well, as public speaking isn’t for everyone.

Our guide delivered a good and personal story about how he came here and what he did in the 8 years he was imprisoned there (he worked in the kitchen). The only other prisoner who is mentioned over and over here is Nelson Mandela - he already had a special status at that time. Many of the other government leaders of the past 20 years, including the current president Jacob Zuma, have also been detained here. Zuma distinguished himself especially as a football referee. The regime was heavy in the 1960s and 1970s, with little food and ill-treatment. Later on, due to outside pressure the conditions improved and the prison developed into a kind of university for the ANC leadership.

Moturu Kramat

After the prison visit, we were directed back to the bus for a tour of the island. This goes very fast - if you are on the wrong side of the bus to take pictures, you are unlucky (sit on the right!). We see, among other things, the leper cemetery, the village buildings of the former guards, the tomb of a muslim holy man detained by the Dutch East India Company (Moturu Kramat) and the stone quarry where some of the prisoners worked. At the far end of the island we were allowed a break to stretch our legs, buy some drinks at a kiosk or watch penguins. The full tour including ferry crossing eventually took 3.5 hours.

Published 22 January 2018

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Blog: WHS #652: Cape Floral Region

The Cape Floral Region is one of the few WHS solely focused on flora. ‘Fynbos’ is the key subject here: a diverse shrubland and heathland vegetation with many endemic species. It comes for example in the variation of ‘rooibos’, that is used for the eponymous tea. Although plants aren’t my specific area of interest, I managed to visit Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens and the Table Mountain National Park during my 4 days in Cape Town. These cover only 1 of the 13 inscribed clusters – the other 12 are located in the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces.

A bit of fynbos

My explorations started at Kirstenbosch gardens. I was staying at a Bed&Breakfast in Klaassens Road, next to Gate no. 3 of the gardens. This whole area is incredibly lush – and wealthy. Properties sell easily for over 1 million EUR. Entering Kirstenbosch via this upper gate leads you directly to the fynbos and the proteas, both almost only to be found in the Cape Floral Region. With the Table Mountain directly in the background, it’s all very pleasing to the eye. The lower part, near main entrance no. 1, is a bit more like a landscape garden and hosted lots of picnickers when I was visiting on a Saturday afternoon.

We’ve discussed before on this website whether it is more important to preserve an iconic and large fauna species such as the giant panda or the mountain gorilla, than for example a mouse or even an ant. This also applies to the flora: we have the giant trees of Redwood and the double ‘coco de mer’ coconut of Vallée de Mai. The Cape Flora Region’s main claim to fame is its fynbos – which essentially is a low and unassuming shrub. I have tried and tried to find anything to love about it, but I can’t.

Sugarbird at a protea

I spent 3 hours in Kirstenbosch, which is a pleasure to walk in. Kirstenbosch also has a (rather lame) canopy walkway, a new addition to our connection. More extreme activities can be done from Table Mountain. Getting there involves stepping into a spectacular cable car that rotates 360 degrees during the ride. From the top you can try abseiling, or just watch other people do it.

The remarkable thing about the top surface of the Table Mountain is that it is covered by a great variety of plants. Somehow you would just expect a rocky platform. There are trails to explore the 3km width of the mountain, and it is recommended to go as far from the cable car station as you can – only there you will find some peace and quiet to enjoy the landscape. Yes, Table Mountain is one of our ‘one million visitors or more’ sites.

Floral diversity on top of Table Mountain

Kirstenbosch and Table Mountain are two of the obligatory stops on any trip to Cape Town, and they were well worth a visit. They attract lots of people, both locals and tourists: a bit too many for my taste. The diversity in plant life is easy to grasp and certainly a strong point of these two locations. Unfortunately I was too late in season for the blooming of the flowers, so I had to look at a lot of green shrubs.

Published 19 January 2018

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Blog: WHS #651: Twyfelfontein

Twyfelfontein or /Ui-//aes is a rock engraving site in northern Namibia, supposedly the best of its kind in variation and number in Africa below the Equator. My non-Dutch trip mates had already great difficulty in pronouncing ‘Twyfelfontein’ (which is a perfectly normal word in Afrikaans and Dutch, meaning ‘doubtful fountain’). But try its alternative name ‘/Ui-//aes’: the slashes represent two different clicks in the local Damara language.

Rocky area near the entrance

The site lies deep into a barren valley, surrounded by pretty rock formations made out of sandstone. All of a sudden you’ll end up at a car park and a visitor center – Twyfelfontein caters to 40,000 visitors a year so things are organized quite well. It conveniently lies on the route between Etosha and Swakopmund, and as there is not a lot else to see in the area many tour operators schedule stops here.

We are assigned a guide and after a short walk on the main road in the burning heat, we start our tour at the remains of the house of David Levin. He was a white farmer who settled in the area in 1946 to start a sheep farm. He was the one who named the site ‘Twyfelfontein’, and up against the rocks this unreliable but still delivering water source can be seen under a shelter. He showed the rock art to an archaeologist, and in 1952 Twyfelfontein already was protected as a monument.

Penguin to the left

The area is covered by two guided circular walks, the Lion Man route and the Dancing Kudu route. The guides seem to randomly do one of those with the group, and ours was the Lion Man route. The routes are equally long (both take about an hour) but do not intersect. The first panel of rock engravings that we are lead to see shows a number of common animals in this region (giraffe, oryx) and their corresponding footprints. A boulder a little further away shows circles: it is assumed that this was a kind of map, indicating the location of the more or less permanent water sources in the area. A second panel depicts the usual animals, plus what appear to be a penguin and a seal.

On most rocks, human footprints are depicted next to the animals. These could be the 'signatures' of the makers of the rock carvings. Elsewhere in the world, you often see human handprints in the prehistoric petroglyphs. It then requires some climbing over the rocks to reach the highlight of this route: the image of the Lion Man. It has the body of a lion and human feet with 5 toes. It is assumed that this drawing had a more ritual significance.

The Lion Man panel

In all, the visit was a bit too short and superficial for me. I read in a guidebook that the guides aren’t really motivated, and I wouldn’t say that was the case but they just cater to a very generic bunch of tourists passing every day with little or no interest in rock art. To enjoy the area a bit more, I can recommend staying overnight at the pretty spectacular Twyfelfontein Country Lodge. This lies at the other side of the rock and in the buffer zone of the WHS. Its construction made ICOMOS cringe in its evaluation (“severely compromised the integrity of the rock engravings in this area “). It has some rock art as well on its premises.

Published 15 January 2018

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Blog: WHS #650: Namib Sand Sea

The Namib Sand Sea is the most extensive example in the world of a coastal fog desert. It’s the kind of place nature documentaries rely upon. In David Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth II: Deserts’ several scenes were filmed here such as the gecko licking its own eyeballs - where thaw had formed in the early morning - to get liquid. The site was inscribed on all 4 natural criteria and it is the undoubted highlight of a trip to Namibia.

View from halfway Dune 45

The designated area is enormous – about 75% of the size of the Netherlands. But only a small part of it is open to regular tourists. The common access point is at the east, at Sesriem and the Sossusvlei. Only few tour operators have permits to venture deeper into the Namib Sand Sea (they are named in the nomination dossier).

We stayed overnight at the Sossus Dune Lodge, which is the only hotel within the park’s borders (there’s a camp site as well which has this privilege). This means that you’ll be in the park before sunrise and have all the nice spots to yourself for at least an hour or so. At 5.30 a.m. we were the first to start the climb of Dune 45, at 150m the highest of the red sand dunes along the Sossusvlei access road. Sitting at the top ridge we watched the sun rise, giving the surrounding dunes a deep red colour. Getting down from a sand dune of this height also is great fun.

Sossusvlei

We then moved on some 10km deeper into the park to what is known as the ‘2x4 car park’. Here the vehicles that are no four-wheel drives have to be left behind. Jeeps will shuttle visitors for the final leg to the access point of Dead Vlei. We however hiked this stretch of 5km, right through the Sossusvlei’s barren clay pan and across some smaller sand dunes. It was a lovely walk which I would recommend to anyone over using the shuttle.

A final hurdle is left for everyone after the Dead Vlei car park: there’s a 1.5km struggle through the sand, where you hope to see the famous white pan with the dead trees after each small hill. But it really is at the far end. At one point there may have been 50 tourists at the place at the same time, the pan is however larger than I had thought (about 100m across?) and there are plenty iconic dead trees to take pictures of.

Dead Vlei

The whole place is terribly hot. We were done for the day at 11 a.m. At the late afternoon temperatures hit 46 degrees Celsius. Even at the luxurious Sossus Dune Lodge we had to develop all kinds of tricks to keep ourselves cool. There was only hot water coming from the taps in the rooms, so we filled our water bottles with warm water and then left the bottle in the freezer overnight.

At the end of my tour through Namibia I was in the town of Swakopmund, just north of the Namib Sand Sea. From here, 1.5-2 hour scenic flights are offered over the whole inscribed area. They are quite pricey at 250-300 EUR, but I heard great things about them. Unfortunately, the minimum of 4 participants could not be met on the day that I wanted to go. Another option to try out for future WH travellers are the helicopter tours from Sesriem.

Published 12 January 2018

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Clyde (13 January 2018)

What a spectacle! Thanks for the informative review ;)


Blog: Etosha Pan

The Etosha Pan in northern Namibia is one of the world’s largest salt pans. It is a former lake bed of 4,730 square km. Nowadays the area is mostly a dry, saline and uninhabited desert. This combined with the high temperatures results in the fact that no flora or fauna to speak of can survive there. Only ostriches sometimes seek shelter here from predators. Vehicular traffic on the pan itself is forbidden.

The salt pan

On the fringes of the pan there are natural (and artificial) waterholes, grasses and shrublands that support high numbers of mammal and bird species. They are protected within the Etosha National Park, which with a founding date of 1907 is one of the oldest conservation sites in Africa.

The park has the largest single population of black rhino in the world. Numbers are nowadays undisclosed to prevent unwanted attention of poachers (drones are forbidden in the park for the same reason). But earlier numbers indicate about 600-750 black rhino living in Etosha. We saw about 10 of them. White rhino has been reintroduced here as well, but they are more rare. We were lucky to encounter one formidable individual at the edge of the pan, and follow him around for some 20 minutes. He took a long mud bath, so he was one big clay-ey, shiny mess. Afterwards he crossed the road close to our truck, and disappeared into the bushes – not before giving his nose/horn a long rub against a tree.

White rhino after a mud bath

We spent 3 days in Etosha National Park, crossing it from east to west. We slept two nights in lodges inside the park, in Namutomi and Okakuejo. These and the other park lodges/restaurants/camps get fairly busy. They are not as luxurious as the private lodges where we had stayed at outside the park, but do a fair job especially at dinner time. The main attractions of the park lodges are their private waterholes, at which animals come to drink during day and night. Most famous is the one at Okaukuejo. There are benches and a small stand to sit and watch the comings and goings from a safe distance. It’s like watching a nature documentary on TV together with a lot of other people. After sunset rhino will surely show up – within the course of an hour I saw 4 individuals, including a mother with a very young calf.

Other good sightings during the game drives included: a hyena den with 3 or 4 cute baby hyena, 3 cheetahs guarding a kill and a family of 5 lions avoiding the heat under the biggest tree in the area. Also we visited two great waterholes in the west of the park, that hasn’t been opened to tourists for long. At the Ozonjuitji M’bari and Sonderkop waterholes we saw the congregation of animals that Etosha is so famous for. At the first we saw an elephant share his bath with hundreds of zebra’s, springbok and wildebeest. At the second, giraffes were drinking (always a spectacular sight) with numerous red hartebeest and rows of zebra joining. Three lions were watching them lazily from under a bush, they probably already had their stomachs full.

All around the waterhole

Etosha is undoubtedly one of the best national parks in southern Africa, both for its conservation track record and visitor experience. I do agree with Namibia’s reasoning in its description of the tentative site that “although large African savannah fauna has already been inscribed elsewhere, some of Etosha’s fauna species are under threat or have died out elsewhere”. It’s especially a good rhino habitat. For a possible future WH nomination, a transboundary serial nomination with the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana is considered.

Published 10 January 2018

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Blog: Benguela Current

Few of you will be familiar with the Benguela Current. At least I wasn’t before I started researching my Namibia trip. At the country’s Tentative List I found an entry called The Benguela Current Marine Ecosystem Sites. It could surely do with a more catchy name and/or an epic subtitle if it ever were to be nominated, but in reality it is quite an interesting site. The Benguela Current is an ocean current that carries icy cold, wind-driven upwelled waters from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. These waters are very rich in nutrients, and they support a whole food chain from phytoplankton via fish to sea birds and marine mammals.

Approaching Halifax Island

The proposed nomination includes a marine ecosystem along the southern Namibian coast including Mercury Island, Ichaboe Island, Halifax Island and Possession Island. In the coastal town of Lüderitz there are catamaran trips on offer to one of these islands: Halifax. They leave daily (weather permitting) at 8 a.m., take 2 hours and cost 450 Namibian dollar (about 30 EUR). Halifax Island is home to the largest colony of jackass-penguins in Namibia.

Lüderitz (“home of the sand storm”) is known for its windy weather, and I wondered how that would affect the boat trip. Just to be sure I had taken an anti-seasickness pill an hour before we left. Fortunately the sea wasn’t rough at all – the winds mostly start from the late morning - and we did not travel so fast. It was lovely to sit outside at the tip of the catamaran, watching small dolphins jumping around and looking at the small rock islands covered in bird guano.

Seal colony

In fact, the guano presence has turned the site into a mixed nomination: there was a true ‘guano rush’ here from the 1870’s til the early 20th century. Ships industrially collected the guano as fertilizer. Special wooden platforms were constructed to encourage the sea birds to breed, so the guano can be harvested annually by humans to sell as organic fertilizer. This practice still is active at this site. Penguin guano was also collected until 1949 from Halifax Island, and the sheds of the miners are still visible there.

After sailing for half an hour or so, we already arrived at Halifax Island. Ships are not allowed to land on the island itself, but they can linger just before its coast. We did so for about 30 minutes, in which we observed small groups of penguins swimming closely to our catamaran. It was the first time that I had ever seen penguins swim, with their paddling they somewhat resemble ducks! On the island’s beach there were hundreds, maybe even thousands of penguins standing around as well in their classical manner. It was a wonderful experience to see them here acting in and out of the sea.

Jack-ass penguins swimming

Later that day we visited a coastal viewpoint at the mainland in roughly the same area that we covered by boat earlier. It is named Diaz Point, after the navigator Bartolomeu Diaz who sailed by in 1488 and had a cross erected at a coastal rock. The rock can still be climbed, though the path upwards would not meet any health & safety regulations in most countries. The wind at the top is terrible. But it is the best viewing point for the Cape Fur Seal colony on an small island just offshore. I had seen it from the boat as well, but the sea was particularly rough around it so we could not get close. I find it funny to see that the species each have their own favourite island. From Diaz Point, many sea birds can be observed as well as flamingos.

Published 5 January 2018

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